Valve’s latest invention and their first foray into mass-produced hardware, the Steam Controller has a lot to offer right out of the box. Finished in matte black and designed to fit in any set of hands, the new controller seems unassuming at first glance. Generally speaking, the first test of any new hardware that is designed for games is probably whether or not it is comfortable to hold, and can easily accommodate your fingers across all the controls. The new controller does succeed in this regard, but feels somewhat unwieldy in other areas due to the lack of familiar joysticks.
Change is good.
Because of the two touch pad control spaces where you might typically find joysticks, it is tempting to want to rest your thumbs on the space when idling or piloting between games in the steam’s big picture mode view option. The touch pads are just as sensitive as your typical trackpad, and can give you incredibly responsive feedback within games once you get used to how they feel under your fingers. Until you’ve played a few rounds with them, they’ll feel a bit odd. Having said that, they are more fluid and responsive than your typical joystick controllers by far.
The controller has over 18 inputs, ranging from standard buttons to flexible triggers with thresholds for different actions and swipe motion pads that range in intensity and speed based on your needs for each game. The most appealing part of this design is most simply the native compatibility and customizability that it comes with. For each game, you can personally design a control scheme that works best for you and your play style, or you can check the built in hosting platform for other designs from players like yourself or the developer’s recommended setup. More than that, if a control feels off while in game, you can update on the fly without quitting.
Upon initial release, the controller had a few issues, which most fully impacted the Mac market with the failure to utilize the trackpads to aim with in most first person view games. This was quickly rectified, and Valve was quick to apologize for the inconvenience with a full subscription to the entire Valve catalogue of games for any mac user affected. The issue has been patched since, and regular updates keep improving the experience with every game.
The Steam Controller challenges the conventional controller mindset, and it’s a refreshing look at the future of gaming hardware. Disputing the notion that you either choose comfort of controller or responsiveness of keyboard and mouse, Valve asks “Why not both?”. The drivers that install themselves with the controller allow the unit to be used outside of Steam as well. Toggling between Counterstrike and your desktop means you don’t even have to drop the thing to upload your kill streak to twitch.
The unit provides haptic feedback to aid in the experience with each game. Just like the sensitivity and customizability of the controls themselves, you can ramp up the feedback to respond to certain stimuli in the game in different ways.
It’s all in the wrist…
The Steam Controller ultimately is well designed, and offers an incredibly versatile range of control and options for every gamer. Want the sensitivity and quick reaction controls for FPS war? Check. Want the overview controls and mapping ability for games like Prison Architect, Civilization or XCOM? Check. How about a quick round of Rocket League? You better believe it. The ability to cycle between control setups saved to each game means you don’t even need to reconfigure the controller between each match. Pick one on first launch, and it’ll default back to that each time without your input.
The challenge is as it has ever been: All the comfort and ease of use of a controller without sacrificing the range of the keyboard/mouse. For what its worth, the Steam Controller is a really outstanding option, and replaces the typical Xbox 360 USB or 3rd party option many gamers tend towards. For the price, and the stunning built-in versatility of this device, it’s absolutely worth the cost.